Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports during the year that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. Human rights activists reported police occasionally used excessive force against suspects, including protesters exercising their right to free speech, that could amount to torture or degrading treatment.
On January 26, authorities transferred political activist and prominent Hirak detainee Rachid Nekkaz from Kolea prison in Tipaza (30 miles from Algiers) to Labiod Sidi Cheikh prison (450 miles from Algiers) and placed him in solitary confinement despite Nekkaz’s suffering from prostate cancer and liver complications. On February 19, authorities released Nekkaz and other Hirak detainees ahead of the Hirak movement’s two-year anniversary. Authorities prevented Nekkaz from leaving Algeria on March 27 and arrested him twice in May for traveling within the country.
On February 2, during university student Walid Nekkiche’s trial for allegedly “distributing and possessing leaflets undermining the interest of the country,” “participating in a conspiracy to incite citizens to take up arms against the State,” “organizing secret communication with the aim of undermining national security,” and “undermining security and national unity,” Nekkiche accused intelligence officers of torture during the 14 months he spent in pretrial detention. Abdelghani Badi, Nekkiche’s lawyer, said the intelligence services forced Nekkiche to undress and then raped him. The public prosecutor’s office ordered an investigation into Nekkiche’s claims, although no details of the investigation were released by year’s end.
On March 2, Hirakist Sami Dernouni testified that he suffered mistreatment and torture while in the custody of the intelligence service in Algiers. Dernouni faced charges of “inciting an illegal gathering,” “undermining national unity,” and “undermining national security.” Dernouni’s lawyer, Fellah Ali, said the intelligence services forced Dernouni to undress, before beating and shocking him. Authorities denied his request to seek medical care for his injuries.
On April 3, authorities arrested 15-year-old Said Chetouane and several other youths during a Hirak protest. Upon his release, Chetouane publicly accused the police of sexual assault. The DGSN launched an investigation into Chetouane’s claims, accusing the other arrested youth of manipulating Chetouane, and stated authorities would publicize the investigation’s results, if the prosecutor approves. Authorities have not yet publicized the investigation’s findings.
The Ministry of Justice did not provide figures concerning prosecutions of police officers for abuse during the year. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted that impunity in security forces was a problem.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s pretrial detention order and, if released, seek compensation from the government. Nonetheless, overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. The government increasingly used pretrial detention after the beginning of the Hirak popular protest movement in 2019. The Ministry of Justice reported that, as of September, 19 percent of the prisoners were in pretrial detention. Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the prosecutor’s office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons, police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the survivor to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.
If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member, receive a visit, or contact an attorney.
The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if authorities extend the time in detention beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after one-half of the extended time has expired. Prosecutors may apply to a judge to extend the period before arrested individuals can have access to an attorney. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the medical certificate into the detainee’s file.
In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on terrorism charges and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” or release on own recognizance while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subject suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.
Judges rarely refused requests to extend pretrial detention. During the year the Ministry of Justice reported an average pretrial detention of four months. The defendant has the right to request compensation if a court overturns the detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and abused them physically and mentally.
Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities used vaguely worded provisions such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.
According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), at least 74 persons were arbitrarily detained for expressing their opinion, and 48 of them were in pretrial detention as of May 5. On March 5, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported on the use of arbitrary arrest to suppress peaceful demonstrations and highlighted those hundreds of individuals arrested since the Hirak protests resumed in February.
Local and international organizations reported arbitrary detention and prosecution of human rights activists Said Boudour, Jamila Loukil, and Kaddour Chouicha. According to press reports, on March 12, police beat Chouicha and his son during a protest, and one police officer tried to strangle Chouicha’s son. Chouicha and Loukil also accused police of violence during an arrest in April. Boudour claimed police physically assaulted him during his arrest on April 23.
On April 20, the police arrested Nacer Meghnine, head of Hirak-affiliated youth and cultural NGO SOS Bab El-Oued, and placed him in pretrial detention. The DGSN called SOS Bab El-Oued a “criminal organization” and accused Meghnine of “acts of incitement and receiving foreign funding from a diplomatic mission of a major country.” The police stated the NGO used foreign funding to purchase equipment used to produce “provocative films” and “publications used during Hirak demonstrations.” Authorities seized 677 posters, seven computers, one camera, three scanners, and 12 printers. On September 26, the Bab-El Oued court sentenced Meghnine to eight months in prison.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees were a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice’s figures, 19 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention, and of those, 7 percent were under preliminary investigation.
The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.
The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years’ imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.
On January 6, authorities at El-Harrach prison transferred three Hirak detainees – Mohamed Tadjadit, Noureddine Khimoud, and Abdelhak Ben Rahmani – to a hospital. The detainees had begun a hunger strike in December 2020, to protest the extension of their pretrial detention. On January 21, authorities convicted and released the three men, as they served their full sentences while in pretrial detention. On March 26, Tadjadit was among the 190 demonstrators arrested during a Hirak protest in Algiers, and although police released most of those arrested later that same day, Tadjadit was one of eight remanded into custody.
On September 22, the court of Dar El-Beida sentenced Major General Ali Ghediri – a candidate in the 2019 presidential election – to four years in prison after the court convicted Ghediri of “participating in times of peace to an endeavor aimed at weakening the morale of the National People’s Army.” The prosecutor initially requested a 10-year sentence and expressed his hope that the “severe sentence will serve as an example.” In February the Indictment Chamber at the Court of Algiers rejected Ghediri’s request for release from pretrial detention, and during his sentencing, Ghediri questioned the length of his pretrial detention, which was 832 days at that time.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence according to some human rights observers. Some alleged family connections and status of the those involved influenced decisions. While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary who the president chooses. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges.
In May the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSM) removed National Union of Judges president Saad Eddine Merzouk for “violating an obligation of confidentiality.” The CSM suspended Merzouk in 2019 for supporting the Hirak movement. In May the CSM filed suit against Prosecutor Sid-Ahmed Belhadi for sharing pictures of himself and Merzouk on social media. In 2020 Belhadi requested that the courts release Hirak demonstrators. In May the CSM also suspended judge Fatma Zohra Amaili for alleged “insults on social networks.”
In September, President Tebboune appointed Tahar Mamouni as Supreme Court first president, replacing Abderrachid Tabi after his appointment as minister of justice. Tebboune also appointed 15 new appeal courts presidents, 20 attorneys general, and 20 administrative courts presidents. Tebboune did not indicate if the High Judicial Council reviewed his decision.
On November 18, according to media reports, authorities arrested and placed Judge Chentouf El Hachemi, president of the Court of Oran, in pretrial detention for allegedly accepting a bribe. Media also reported that the Ministry of Justice promoted El Hachemi to his position, despite facing previous disciplinary actions. El Hachemi presided over several high-profile corruption cases.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The penal code stipulates that defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do not respond to a summons ordering their appearance. Courts tried defendants without legal representation and denied defendants’ requests to delay court proceedings when their lawyers were not present.
Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.
According to the CNLD, more than 200 political prisoners associated with the Hirak protest movement were in government detention during the year, an increase from 61 in 2020. In June the CNLD reported more than 300 prisoners of conscience. They included journalists, activists, lawyers, opposition figures, and Hirak protesters. International human rights organizations and local civil society groups repeatedly called on the government to release all political prisoners. In September 2020 former minister of communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated there were no political detainees in the country.
On May 4, authorities sentenced Amira Bouraoui, founder of two opposition movements (Barakat “Enough” and al-Muwatana “Citizenship”), to four years imprisonment. She had initially received a one-year prison sentence in June 2020 on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering, offending Islam, offending the President, publishing content which may harm national unity, publication of fake news that may harm safety and public order, and undermining the lives of others,” and the sentence was increased on appeal.
On May 24, authorities sentenced Hirak activist Slimane Hamitouche, a codefendant in the high-profile prosecution of Reporters Without Borders journalist Khaled Drareni, to one year in prison on “illegal assembly and incitement to illegal assembly” charges.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights abuses and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions cannot be legally enforced.
The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly visited homes unannounced and conducted searches without a warrant. The government charged the Ministry of National Defense cybercrime unit with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security, but it did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice stated the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies. In 2019 the government moved the agency from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Defense. A new decree allowed authorities to conduct domestic surveillance and required internet and telephone providers to increase cooperation with the Defense Ministry.